Earlier this week, the Canadian federal government finally passed the S-203 bill which will prevent cetaceans from being brought into captivity in Canada. The legislation, which has been delayed since 2015, will explicitly ban aquatic mammals such as whales and dolphins from being kept in captivity. Unless you're Marineland, who has a whale ban exemption.
The introduction of this new bill was largely positively received across the country, with many celebrating using the #EmptyTheTanks on Twitter to share their feelings. However, what is now becoming clear is that while the new bill promises to keep whales and dolphins from captivity in future, there is a there is an official "grandfather clause" that will exempt Ontario’s Marineland from aspects of this new law.
The aquatic theme park, which currently houses more than 60 captive cetaceans, has been controversial for a long time. Marineland owns the vast majority of marine mammals in Canada, with an estimated 51 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins and a killer whale at its facility in Niagara Falls, according to Cetabase data.
It seemed, initially, that several members of the public understood this new law to mean that current captive cetaceans, in locations such as Marineland, would be free to live out their lives in a non-public space. Some people even understood the new law to mean that the captive animals would be released back into their natural habitat in the wild.
While it is now illegal to have cetaceans such as whales and dolphins in captive confinement, for now, Marineland will be able to continue with business as usual. While the S-203 bill now bans the capture, sale and import of cetaceans in Canada, Marineland will remain unaffected and are officially allowed to keep all of their current captive animals until they all die.
In an official statement, Marie Holer, who works with Marineland Canada, said "We've been working to evolve Marineland for over a year and have made many positive changes to the park, including the new educational presentation on marine mammals.”
She also said "Since opening day, we've seen our largest crowds in years and are thrilled that so many people support us in our work. We're looking forward to enhancing our education, conservation and research focus in the short term to highlight our commitment to marine mammals."
The park will have to comply with the section of the bill that prevents animals from being used for entertainment, for example performing in public shows. That said, the current captive animals will remain in tanks and displayed publicly in an aquarium-style format.
While Marineland has committed to shifting their focus from entertainment to rehabilitation, it is worth noting that even if the business was never again able to import or breed an animal, they could still continue operations with their current cetaceans for at least 30 years.
Marineland has always strongly disagreed with any suggestion that the animals in their park suffer, and strongly dispute the notion that keeping whales and dolphins in captivity is abusive.
While this 'grandfather clause' is disappointing news for some activists, it is worth remembering that this is still a historic bill for the country, and Canada is still one step closer to having no marine life in captivity.